The Crystal Palace

In 1849 Prince Albert who was president of the Royal Society of Arts desired to create an intricate exhibit that allowed both Britain and other international exhibitors the opportunity to showcase their works and inventions. In order to house what would be known as the Great Exhibition of 1851 Prince Albert decided to build a new structure within Hyde Park in London. After many months of planning, and diligently reviewing architectural submissions Prince Albert selected Sir Joseph Paxton's design, and construction began. The structure was intricately made of cast iron and glass which allowed light to shine in from all angles. The ground space of the building was so large it allowed for eight miles worth of gallery and exhibition tables to be on display.  The Crystal Palace was completed within five months, and on May 1, 1851 the Great Exhibition was open to the public. The exhibit would remain open a total of five months (ended October 11, 1851), and drew in over six million visitors to its doors. Patrons were able to observe new developments in engineering, intricate works of art, and artifacts from all over the world. Half of the exhibit was dedicated to British works while the other half was split amongst visiting exhibitors from places such as America, India, and Denmark. Visiting exhibitors aimed to display the splendor of their countries. Many exhibits were filled with precious stones and gold. The British exhibit even allowed patrons to view the recently obtained Koh-I-Noor diamond. Many of the exhibits displayed cultural displays which consisted of people performing tasks while wearing "traditional" clothing. Within her journal Queen Victoria stated that the grand opening of the exhibition marked one of the greatest and most glorious days of her and Prince Alberts lives. Proceeds from the exhibit were used to fund the development of the South Kensington Museum. Once the exhibition was completed the infrastructure was disassembled and relocated to Sydenham Hill in South London. There it remained until eventually burning down in 1936. 


An image of the Crystal Palace designed by Joseph Paxton

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Timeline of Events Associated with The Crystal Palace

Date Event Manage

Crystal Palace opens

In 1851, the Crystal Palace opens, housing the Great Exhibition of 1851. This monumental glass and iron structure was simultaneously a building, an event, and a phenomenon:  a department store, a world's fair, an anthropological museum, and a trade exhibition.


Jules Law, “The Victorian Stereoscope”

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Anne Helmreich, "On the Opening of the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, 1854"

1 May 1851 to 15 Oct 1851

Great Exhibition

Interior of the Crystal PalaceHeld from May to October of 1851, “The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations” was opened by Queen Victoria in the structure built to house it, the Crystal Palace, in Hyde Park, London. Image: Interior view of the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London during the Great Exhibition of 1851. This image is in the public domain in the United States because its copyright has expired.

The Great Exhibition of 1851 was an event in the history of: exhibitions; world’s fairs; consumerism; imperialism; architecture; collections; things; glass and material culture in general; visual culture; attention and inattention; distraction. Its ostensible purposes, as stated by the organizing commission and various promoters, most notably Prince Albert, were chiefly to celebrate the industry and ingeniousness of various world cultures, primarily the British, and to inform and educate the public about the achievement, workmanship, science and industry that produced the numerous and multifarious objects and technologies on display. Designed by Joseph Paxton, the Crystal Palace (pictured above) was a structure of iron and glass conceptually derived from greenhouses and railway stations, but also resembling the shopping arcades of Paris and London. The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations became a model for World’s Fairs, by which invited nations showcased the best in manufacturing, design, and art, well into the twentieth century.


Audrey Jaffe, "On the Great Exhibition"

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12 Jul 1851

Queen Victoria visits the Exhibition Model Dwellings

On 12 July 1851, Queen Victoria visited the Exhibition Model Dwellings, which were built just off the grounds of the Great Exhibition in 1851. These model dwellings, designed by the architect Henry Roberts, contributed to growing efforts to place the mid-century crisis in housing of the poor at the forefront of public attention. Image: A Room in Tyndall's Buildings (from The Labourers’ Friend(April 1856): 57. This image is in the public domain in the United States as its copyright has expired.


Barbara Leckie, “Prince Albert’s Exhibition Model Dwellings”

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